1. Mr. Generik

    Mr. Generik New Member

    May 7, 2015
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    Style Format: Journal or Memoir?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mr. Generik, May 7, 2015.

    Hey all,

    I'm new to the forums, having just joined after deciding to sit down and actually write something instead of just thinking about maybe eventually seriously considering doing it in the future. Of course, I immediately ran into a block. Tense, format, and (kind of) perspective.

    Now, I've already seen the sticky on first vs third person, but it's really not as simple as just posting in that thread. I'm pretty solidly stuck on first person, even acknowledging the limitations of it, since I've got a pretty clear picture of how I want the story to develop. My issue is within the first person perspective.

    The story follows a young woman(late teens to early twenties) as she struggles to survive and thrive in the day-to-day of a developing conflict, from initial fears of violence to full-on civil war as the situation escalates and worsens. My focus is to show the effect war has on those who have no stake in outcome of the conflict. So it's not an action piece about revolutionaries, or military fiction about quelling a terrorist threat, but the story of an individual caught up in events beyond their control, and how they deal with it all. Given all that, the centerpiece of what I'm trying to make is the emotional impact of the events in this woman's life. As far as I can tell, I've got two ways I can write it, and I'm not sure which has more appeal. I'll put pros and cons for each, as I see them.

    First, I've got a journal/diary format. To me, this seems the most organic way to write it. I admit that it's limiting in perspective and has fewer opportunities for waxing philosophical, but I've been considering using the diary along with other sources of information, like news articles and military reports, to help flesh out the story.


    -Probably the best way to express the in-the-moment emotion the character would be feeling.

    -Supplementary sections allow me to change up the style a little bit, and provide varied perspectives on the same events.

    -Character growth within the story can be reflected by how the character writes the journal. (For example, youthful naivete can fade as the story progresses and be replaced with a weariness or cynicism. I really like this as an idea, but don't know how well I can pull it off.)


    -Any action I decide to include would have to be in the supplementary sections or be extremely condensed to seem realistic in a diary.

    -While a diary can be very good for introspection, it lacks perspective on a larger scale, so there's less opportunity to contextualize events within the grander scheme of the world.

    -Time skips need to be justified somehow, unless I just want the character to be an intermittent writer.

    -I'm not entirely sure how well I can write as twenty year old woman.

    My second option is to make it more like a memoir of the conflict, being written well after the events transpire. It seems a little bit less natural to me, and I'm a little concerned the emotion of it all will wind up somewhat muted, but it allows for more consistency, description, and action. It would be easier to write out a conversation this way, for example.


    -Better for retrospective, since it allows me to contextualize information more completely.

    -Consistency in the story without hopping through different formats with different characters.

    -Way more opportunity to provide description of places, people, events. It's a little hard to believe someone's writing a journal and suddenly decides to start describing what their dad looks like, for example.

    -A purely past tense story is more forgiving with how the character would write, so “how would a young woman say this” is less of an issue.

    -It's probably significantly easier to write it this way than as a journal.


    -The spontaneous emotions that occurred during the events would be long gone, so I can only say “well, I felt that way at the time.” It seems more sterile that way, and I'm not sure I like it.

    -I'm going to put consistency here, too, since I'm not really sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing.

    I've toyed with the idea of using an imperfect diary format, kind of stretching the rules of plausibility to fit in more dialogue/description/action, but I'm not sure how well that would go.

    So, from all of you: Do you agree with my pros/cons? Can you think of other considerations that I've missed? Which format do you prefer reading?

    Any input or suggestions would be very, very welcome. It's been killing me trying to choose on my own.

    Thanks in advance!

    NOTE: I just realized how long this post was. Sorry! And thanks to anyone who bothered to read the whole thing.
  2. ZYX

    ZYX Member

    Mar 22, 2015
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    Have you considered just first-person present tense without the diary format ? You could still show the transition and in the moment emotions, but there's more opportunities for contextualization / description.

    Anyways, answering your actual question: It sounds like journal / diary will work better for you. Your main cons there seem to be time skips ( which I think the intermittent writer thing would work fine for ) and not knowing how to write her. She's your main character and the narrator, it might take a while but you'll definitely adjust as you get to know her. Also, your profile says you're 27 ? 20 probably won't be too big a stretch and there isn't a huge gap in writing a man or a woman unless you're too focused on the gender ( but that might just be what happens to me, who knows ). Whereas for the cons to the memoir style you listed it sounding sterile, which I say you really want to avoid. Even if it will be easier to write, I would say go for the harder one and just work at it.

    You can also consider doing multiple perspectives or multiple characters' diary entries, but I'm probably just suggesting that because I always have multiple POV, so ...
  3. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Aug 27, 2014
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    You wouldn't say that a Jew in France in 1940 didn't have a stake in the outcome.

    War always leads to death, etc. A failure to overthrow a repressive regime usually leads to death, etc.

    Even if you're not in the front-line, throwing Molotov cocktails, you've got a stake in the outcome.

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